PK: Utah State Men’s Basketball Loves Close Contests

Mar 14, 2024, 5:12 PM | Updated: 5:13 pm

LAS VEGASMaybe sometime in the future all these amazingly close games will catch up to the Utah State basketball team.

Then again, with a ton of evidence, maybe this is simply what the 18th-ranked Aggies do. Leave it to everybody else to get all nervous.

“They like it close,” said coach Danny Sprinkle. “It drives me crazy, but they like it.”

Bump it up a notch, coach. The Aggies may love it.

They sure did Thursday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center, where the Aggies had to sweat out another nail-biter. Failing to put away pesky Fresno State despite having multiple chances, top-seeded USU finally had enough and outscored the Bulldogs by 12 points in the overtime period to win 87-75 and advance to Friday’s Mountain West tournament semifinals.

“We like when the stakes are high,” said forward Great Osobor, who played one minute shy of the maximum 45 in scoring 29 points to go with 17 rebounds.

Nothing new there.

For several weeks now, the stakes have been high. And nearly every time, the Aggies have come away on top.

Two weeks ago in Fresno, they needed  Darius Brown to bank in a miracle three-pointer in the final seconds just to force overtime. Somehow, despite playing poorly, the Aggies’ magic show prevailed.

“We knew it would come down to the last eight minutes of the game, just like it did at their place,” Sprinkle said.

By this time, close games only serve to infuse large doses of confidence into the players. It’s been that way all conference season, going back as recently as last week when Brown’s last-second three-point shot beat New Mexico to clinch the program’s first outright Mountain West regular-season championship.

Top dogs in sports always get the opposition’s best shot. Again, the Aggies were ready for the latest test.

“As soon we’ve seen it was going OT, we were (like), oh, yeah, we’re going to go take this and dominate,” said reserve guard Javon Jackson.

With starting guard Mason Falslev nursing an injury that prevented him from playing, the Aggies needed help to offset the loss. The birthday fellow was happy to oblige.

On his 22nd birthday, Jackson gave his team an excellent present. Playing 31 minutes, he scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

His accuracy was desperately needed in a game in which starting guards Ian Martinez and Darius Brown combined to go 7-of-29 from the field. Perhaps the biggest shot of the game came from Jackson, who buried a three-pointer in the overtime’s first possession to give the Aggies the lead for good.

“I never know when I’m going to get in the game, but when I do I’ve got to make an impact,” he said.

Anticipate more from Jackson going forward. Sprinkle said after the game he doesn’t expect Falslev to play on Friday.

As much as the Aggies miss Falslev’s tough, physical presence, they are fortunate to bring in a player of Jackson’s caliber off the bench. Sprinkle has been singing the player’s praises for weeks now.

“I told him a couple of weeks ago, every time he shoots, I feel like he’s going to make it,” Sprinkle said. “I really do.  He’s just got great touch. When the moment’s big, he’s one of those guys that wants the ball.”

The same goes for the Mountain West’s most valuable player this season. As Fresno State learned again, the bulldozing Osobor is a load to handle in the low post.

With their hand basically forced, the Bulldogs repeatedly fouled Osobor rather than allow him to power his way to the basket. The strategy worked to a degree, as he struggled (15 of 24) to make enough free throws that would have given USU some breathing room down the stretch of regulation.

Part of the issue might have been fatigue. He and Brown didn’t come out of the game until the final minute of overtime.

“You can see when they come out of the game, they’re pissed at me,” Sprinkle said. “And that’s what I want.”

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PK: Utah State Men’s Basketball Loves Close Contests